Equipment fall forces Pick-Staiger concerts to be moved, rescheduled

Libby Nelson and Libby Nelson

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The sky was falling Saturday morning at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

One of the acoustic “clouds” fell onto the stage during rehearsal. These large pieces of fiberglass hanging from the ceiling direct sound toward the audience.

The damage caused this week’s concerts in Pick-Staiger to be rescheduled or relocated to other on-campus halls while the cloud is repaired.

The other venues are much smaller, though. Pick-Staiger seats almost 1,000 people, but Lutkin Hall holds only about 400 and Regenstein Recital Hall about 200. Alice Millar Chapel, which seats about 700, also has been offered as a performance space. But besides the audience size, the acoustics change as well.

“The brass ensemble is going to be really loud in a smaller space,” said Music junior and brass ensemble member Ethan Bensdorf. “I know on Saturday the jazz ensemble was (moved), and it was just completely overpowering.”

The cloud fell because of a problem with the motor used to raise and lower it, said Richard Van Kleeck, director of concert activities for Pick-Staiger. No one was hurt by the fall, and no equipment was damaged.

“When they hit the stop button (on the cloud’s motor), the middle section just kept going down and landed gently, like a flying saucer on the stage,” Van Kleeck said. “Until the motor’s fixed, it can’t go up.”

The clouds serve an important acoustic function for Pick-Staiger, he said. When groups are performing, the clouds are positioned so that sound can bounce off of them and be directed toward the audience. The position of the clouds routinely changes depending on the size of the ensemble in concert.

The motor had no history of problems, Van Kleeck said. It had been inspected three times this year, and all of the hardware had been replaced within the past three years.

Music senior Brent Jordan, a student stage manager for Pick-Staiger, said he had never had any trouble with the motors. Student workers’ jobs have relocated with the concerts this week to other venues.

“It’s not really a big deal, just that, ‘Oh, this concert’s somewhere else now,'” Jordan said. “Obviously there have already been concerts at the (other) venues, so we’ve already been trained on protocol.”

Classes and rehearsals at Pick-Staiger have mostly been relocated elsewhere in the building.

“The conducting class was in the lobby today, ” Van Kleeck said. “We rolled the piano out there so they wouldn’t miss a beat.”

Van Kleeck said the Wisconsin company that manufactured the clouds is coming to examine the motor, make repairs and complete an inspection. He is also requesting an additional safety license for the clouds, which will mandate that the clouds not be raised more than 10 feet.

“We’re not taking any chances,” he said.

Reach Libby Nelson at libbynelson@northwestern.edu.

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